Thursday, February 27, 2014

"The Unknown Love" by Raymond Chandler (1908)

We all know and love Raymond Chandler for his hard-boiled detective novels, featuring Philip Marlow, as well as his other “pulp fiction” type stories; and also his screenplays; for films like “Double Indemnity” and "The Big Sleep." But what I didn't know was that he once wrote poetry. He was only 17 when he wrote this one, which was published on December 19, 1908 in Chamber’s Journal, a magazine out of London at the time.

I was reading a biography of Mr. Chandler by Tom Williams (no relation) when I came across the first verse of the poem in the chapter about Mr. Chandler’s years in London. He went to school there for a time, and evidently wrote poetry as well.

This poem places an unknown woman on a pedestal, much as he would do in his later writings. Actually; according to Tom Williams; the poem holds all the elements of a Philip Marlowe story. There is a seductive, almost unknowable woman, and then a man, seemingly trapped by his own passion for her, in a relationship which is always doomed from the start. That’s pretty heavy stuff for a 17 year old.

Anyway, here it is; a Raymond Chandler poem. I got the text from a website which has all of his early poetry. It’s unpolished, and some would say not that good. No matter; I really like it.

“The Unknown Love”

When the evening sun is slanting,
When the crickets raise their chanting,
And the dewdrops lie a-twinkling on the grass,
As I climb the pathway slowly,
With a mien half proud, half lowly,
O'er the ground your feet have trod I gently pass.

Round the empty house I wander,
Where the ivy now is fonder
Of your memory than those long gone away;
And I feel a sweet affection
For the plant that lends protection
To the window whence you looked on me that day.

Was it love or recognition,
When you stormed my weak position
And made prisoner my heart for evermore?
For I felt I long had known you,
That I'd knelt before the throne you
Graced in Pharaoh's days or centuries before.

Though your face from me was hidden,
Yet the balm was not forbidden
On your coffin just to see the wreath I sent.
Though no word had passed between us,
Yet I felt that God had seen us
And had joined your heart to mine e'en as you went.

Let them talk of love and marriage,
Honeymoon and bridal carriage,
And the glitter of a wedding   la mode!
Could they understand the union
Of two hearts in dear communion
Who were strangers in the world of flesh and blood?

In my eyes the tears are welling
As I stand before your dwelling,
In my pilgrimage to where you lived, my fair.
And ere I return to duty
In this world of weary beauty,
To the stillness of the night I breathe my prayer:

When the last great trump has sounded,
When life's barque the point has rounded,
When the wheel of human progress is at rest,
My beloved, may I meet you,
With a lover's kiss to greet you,
Where you wait me in the gardens of the blest!


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